It happens every year at the end of basketball season – a painful empathy for players as their seasons come to a close.
Only one team in each division can end its season with a win, so for hundreds of players the conclusion of a season – and for seniors, a high school career – comes with a sting of defeat. Good teams, and many exceptional ones, come up short along the postseason trail leading to the championship. Sometimes it’s a sound drubbing by a team that was just better than the opponent. Other times it’s a chance play, a miraculous shot, or a lucky bounce that gives one team the edge. Those are the worst, because I know that players will relive those moments for decades to come.
If two teams can, as they say, leave it all on the floor, they can both take pride in a game well played and it’s easier to accept a loss gracefully. When there is a missed shot or turnover in the final seconds of a close game, it weighs unfairly heavily. In reality, a missed freethrow or turnover had no greater impact than one that occurred earlier in the game. But it sure seems to.
My hope for players each year is that there are plenty of good memories to balance out the negatives. I remember moments from my last game as a high school player 38 years ago. We had finished as district runner-up to a good Shirley team (does the name Harper ring a bell?) and advanced to regional play. I don’t recall who we played, but the feeling of frustration stemming from knowing we were better than how we were playing was immense. We had good ball handlers but the double-teams were eating our lunch. They took us out of our comfort zone and no amount of scolding in the locker room at halftime could get us back into it.
I remember many more positives than negatives, I’m happy to say. Blocking a certain someone’s shot and stealing a pass intended for that same player and scoring at the other end come immediately to mind from county tournament days. I’ll always remember making two freethrows near the end of another close game in county tournament to help win that game.
Scoring what would end up being my career-high 19 points in ninth grade is a sweet memory, even though we lost the game by one point. During our postgame “should have” lecture, I could not wipe the smile from my face, even when Coach Clark looked at me.
“I know, Webb, you had a good game,” he said, relieving me of the effort.
I had left it all on the floor.
I never made it past the first round of regional as a player, but as a reporter/photographer I’ve now advanced to state many times! I’ve followed local teams to far western Arkansas and many other places to cover wins and losses. I think my state finals appearances number nearly a dozen now, and I’m on my second generation of senior high players. How did that happen?!?
I survived watching and sometimes covering my own son playing basketball and I love these other kids I watch progress from junior to senior high. Sometimes my hands shake so much during the close games that I have a difficult time taking notes.
I celebrate their victories and mourn their losses.
Poor me, having to cover a sport I love. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.